Correspondent Daily Relation Times

Both bills were passed by Senate and NA amid criticism and fierce opposition to their clauses and sections

President Arif Alvi Saturday signed the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, into law.

Both the bills were approved by the Senate and National Assembly and sent to the president for his approval amid criticism by opposition lawmakers.

On July 31, the NA greenlit the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which seeks up to five-year imprisonment for anyone who discloses sensitive information regarding the security of the country or the army.

Meanwhile, the Official Secrets Act was approved a couple of days before the end of the NA’s term on August 7 after some controversial clauses were dropped by the Senate following a strong reaction from the rights groups and senators.

What is Army Act?

The Army Act paves the way for the punishment of up to five-year rigorous imprisonment to any person guilty of disclosing any information, acquired in an official capacity that is or may be prejudicial to the security and interest of Pakistan or the armed forces.

After misunderstandings in the media began surfacing regarding new provisions and insertions in the bill being applicable to civilians, Law Minister Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar clarified that will not be the case.

Its amendments would be applicable to serving and retired officers and personnel of the Pakistan Army, including inter alia, the power to grant commission, determine terms of conditions of service, carry out welfare activities, national development tasks and for other operational and institutional matters in the light of Supreme Court judgment.

PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani and Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan protested the passage of the bill in haste while the former also staged a walkout after it was passed by the upper house of Parliament on July 27.

What is Official Secrets Act?

The revised version of the Official Secrets Act empowers the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to conduct investigations against individuals suspected of violating it.

The amended bill also excludes the amendment which labelled an individual as an enemy for engaging with foreign agents.

An important insertion in the Official Secrets Act 1923 says that under this Act “the Investigation Officer shall be an officer of the FIA not below the rank of BPS-17 or equivalent and he shall be designated by Director General FIA. If Director General FIA deems necessary, he may appoint Joint Investigation Team consisting of officers of intelligence agen­cies as he may appoint.”

According to the bill, the JIT will complete its inquiry within 30 days. The case relating to civil espionage will be investigated by the FIA or JIT. However, according to an amendment in Clause-B of Section 12, the punishment for an offence has been reduced from 14 to 10 years.

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